Sunday, December 26, 2004
What this is leading up to is the fact that I won't be blogging until sometime after January 5. I'd like to thank all of you who have dropped by for a look and/or a comment in the past year, and I hope you won't forget me while I'm gone. I promise to post a photo or two when I return but I won't bore you with the whole long tale of the trip. If I get a chance I'll write that up and post it somewhere, maybe on the website. Or, breaking my promise, maybe here. I'll just have to see how it all works out. Have a happy new year's celebration, and check back here around January 6 or 7 for more blogging in 2005.
Saturday, December 25, 2004
This is the front of my house on Christmas morning. Nobody in Alvin, Texas, can remember the last white Christmas here. Maybe there's never been one. I've lived in Texas all my life, and this is the first white Christmas I can remember. I suppose we only care about things like that because of Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, but it's still kind of neat.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Via World o' Crap comes this link to the Star Wars Christmas Special, the one that George Lucas would like to pretend doesn't exist. Being an Old Guy, I saw it when it appeared on TV, never to be repeated. But someone's made a bootleg DVD, and you can see five minutes or so of it here. (Scroll down to the picture to click on.) It seems more like five hours, so you'll get your money's worth.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
I got this link in an e-mail from Cap'n Bob Napier, who got it in turn through others: "(Craig Miller mentioned this on the Timebinders mailing list and indicated that Jeff Copeland pointed it out to him.) --D Gary Grady." Naturally I had to put it in the blog. It's possibly the best article I've read on fandom, and it mentions some names that should be familiar to everybody (Ed Gorman, especially). Wonderful, nostalgic stuff. My eyes got misty reading it. And if there are a few things Ebert gets wrong or misremembers, so what? It's still a great piece.
Update: Art Scott informs me that this piece was originally published as the "Introduction" to Dick Lupoff's The Best of Xero (Tachyon Press), which I should already own. I don't, so I'd better see what I can do about that.
I like lists, if only because it's fun to nitpick them. So I found this an interesting site, and I also enjoyed the related site on fantasy.
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) - In one of the world's biggest robberies, thieves took the families of two top bankers hostage and forced the bosses to help them steal more than $39 million from the vaults of a Belfast bank's main office, authorities said Tuesday.It was either the IRA or a guy named Parker. Probably not Dortmunder, though.
An unexplained phenomenon akin to a space-borne car wash has boosted the performance of one of the two US rovers probing the surface of Mars, New Scientist magazine said.
It said something - or someone - had regularly cleaned layers of dust from the solar panels of the Mars Opportunity vehicle while it was closed down during the Martian night.
The cleaning had boosted the panels' power output close to their maximum 900 watt-hours per day after at one stage dropping to 500 watt-hours because of the heavy Martian dirt.
By contrast, the power output of the solar panels of Mars Spirit - on a different part of the Red Planet - had dropped to just 400 watt-hours a day, clogged by the heavy dust.
"These exciting and unexplained cleaning events have kept Opportunity in really great shape," the magazine quoted NASA rover team leader Jim Erickson as saying.
OK, this is weird. Sounds like a great premise for an SF story.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
So my comment is, "Male cozy"? Have I invented a new subgenre? Will my name go down in mystery history alongside those of Hammett and Chandler and, well, let's not be riduculous.
Jon also mentions Boss Napier, who plays a very minor part in the story and should not be confused with any persons living or dead because any resemblance is purely coincidental.
Monday, December 20, 2004
So ever since, I've been waiting for someone to interview me. And waiting. And waiting. Now I'm beginning to think nobody wants to interview me. So I guess I'll have to do it myself. Herewith, the Interview:
The Blog: When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
Me: I've always wanted to write. In fact, I wrote my first novel at the age of five, a hardboiled tale of violence and revenge called The Velveteen Rabbit Takes Names and Kicks Ass. It would have been a blockbuster, but all the major publishers rejected it. "We don't do fanfic" was the typical turn-down.
The Blog: But you didn't give up.
Me: Oh, no. I went on to write Nancy Drew to an Inside Straight, a boldly sexual tale of Nancy and Ned and a red-hot strip poker game in which Nancy's best friend, the ambigously named "George," is also involved. Naturally the cowardly big-time publishing establishment turned that one down, too. "Fanfic is not acceptable," they said, "much less erotic fanfic."
The Blog: That must have been discouraging.
Me: You bet it was. I almost didn't write Aunt Gertrude Does Detroit. Frank and Joe Hardy are shocked to discover that their aunt is moonlighting as a pole dancer in a seedy dive, where she does a little diving of her own, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
The Blog: Yes. I do. Maybe. And let me guess: fanfic.
Me: Too true. But . . . .
The Blog: I'm sorry, but we've run out of time. Thanks for being our interview subject.
Me (tugging my forelock and digging my toe into the rug): No. . . thank you. Thank you very much.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Dave Zeltserman, author of the excellent Fast Lane, has started a blog. Fast Lane was published by a small press, and now Dave is on the verge of getting his new book, Outsourced, bought by a major house. Or so he hopes. He's going to chronicle his experiences in the blog, and it should be interesting reading.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
"Bankrolled by the deep pockets of entertainment mogul Bob Sillerman, the estate of the late King is planning a global rollout of Presley-mania — from Elvis theme parks in Germany to lavish casinos in Asia where the singer's hologram will perform around the clock.
Sillerman, who made a fortune building the world's biggest entertainment touring outfit, bought all the rights to Presley's name and likeness, as well as his music, for more than $100 million.
The late entertainer's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, said she sold the assets to give her family a secure future and expand her father's legacy to the entire world."
Maybe Lisa Marie is really Col. Parker's kid.
Well, now I know what's wrong with me. "Damage to a part of the frontal lobes of the [brain's] cortex, particularly on the right side . . . ." You can click the line for further details.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
The cover of Heart of the Hunter is no doubt familiar to anyone who attended the recent Bouchercon in Toronto. It was a freebie in all the book bags, and it seemed that many people were trying to get rid of it by putting it out on the "trade" table. Maybe they just didn't want to lug a hardback home. If they didn't read it, they were the losers, because it's very good.
It was originally written in Afrikaans and was translated by K. L. Seegers, who's done a fine job. I don't know what I was expecting exactly, but what I got was an espionage novel of the "every time I try to get out, they drag me back in" variety. Or of the "retired gunslinger can't quite hang 'em up" variety. But with a difference. The South African setting, for one thing. And while there's plenty of action, the book seems more influenced by John Le Carre than Ian Fleming. The big confrontation that I kept expecting never happened. Or rather it did happen, but not at all in the way I thought it would. There's also some violence, but it's mostly off-stage. There are plenty of twists and turns. Nobody can be trusted, and nothing is what it seems to be.
I'm glad I brought this home to Texas from Canada, and if you have it on your shelves, pull it out and give it a try. I think you'll find it rewarding reading.
OK, this is pretty cool. I think it's an alien spacecraft, myself, but apparently no one else shares that belief.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
While checking on Larry Buchanan, I ran across this. Les Baxter was also from my hometown. Zowie. This is a truly famous guy. His orchestra was on a lot of Frank Sinatra recordings, not to mention Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa." And he wrote "Quiet Village." How cool is that?
"Born Marcus Larry Seale Jr. in Mexia, Texas, and orphaned in infancy, Buchanan grew up in a Dallas orphans' home, where he developed a love of movies in the facility's theater. He considered becoming a minister but during a visit to Hollywood landed a job in 20th Century Fox's prop department."
FOX is turning a grown adopted child's search for her father into a reality/game show called "Who's Your Daddy."
On the Jan. 3, 90-minute special, the woman will face eight men — one is her father, and the fakes' goal is to trick her into thinking they are.
If, after three elimination rounds, she picks out her real father, she wins $100,000. If she picks the wrong one, the fake daddy gets the big-bucks prize. — Post TV Staff
More than 2,000 new and revised word entries have been added to the online edition of The Oxford English Dictionary and a small contingent of them come from the P. Diddy and Eminem arena."
For example, the word "benjamin," meaning "a one-hundred dollar bill" and more generally, "large sums of money" made its way onto the list.
Other hip-hop words that were added:
-- "Hoochie," which means "a young woman who is promiscuous or who dresses or behaves in a sexually provocative or overtly seductive manner."
-- "Thugged out" is defined as "resembling a thug in dress or behavior, tough-looking."
-- And finally, the dictionary editors have added "crack ho," which is defined as "a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine."
Dictionary spokesman Jesse Shiedlowe says he expects a lot more hip-hop words to be added in future editions of the dictionary as long as the music genre continues to stay popular.
We never have anything like this in Alvin, Texas. No wonder I feel deprived.
Via Incoming Signals, here's a quiz on Christmas movies. I missed two, but I claim foul, since I knew the answer to one of them and clicked on the wrong one by mistake. I'm ashamed to admit that Number 7 is not one of those that I missed.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
It's an interesting list, and there are two books on it that I confess I've never heard of. OK, I've heard of them, since I undoubtedly read this column in 1958. But I've never heard of them again. One of them is Malcolm Jameson's Bullard of the Space Patrol, published by World in 1951. The other is S. Fowler Wright's The Throne of Saturn (Arkham, 1949).
I've not only heard of the others; I've read most of them. Some of them are still among my favorites: Bester's The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. Philip K. Dick's Eye in the Sky. Fred Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants. Clifford Simak's City. In fact, I might as well stop listing, because nearly everything on the list would be on my list as well.
Let's face it: the 1950s were my Golden Age of Science Fiction. The titles on Boucher's list are so evocative for me that just reading over them takes me back to the room I shared with my younger brother in our house at 401 S. McKinney, in Mexia, Texas. I spent a lot of happy hours in that room, reading the books on Boucher's list and many others besides, not to mention poring over the digest magazines of the time with an intensity I should have applied to my schoolwork.
The books and stories I read in those days had an impact on me that's pretty much unequalled by anything I've read since. They've stayed in my memory much more clearly than anything I've read in the last year. Other people have fond memories of the TV shows of that era. Not me. For me it was books. Still is. And, I guess, always will be.
Monday, December 13, 2004
OK, it's not so. The three novellas are by Maggie Shayne ( never read anything by her, but she's the Big Name in the collection), Barbara Hambly (I read Bride of the Rat God), and Charlaine Harris. I like Charlaine's work a lot, particularly the now sadly defunct Lily Bard series. And I like her vampire novels with Sookie Stackhouse. "Dancers in the Dark," her story in the collection, is set in the same world that Stackhouse inhabits, but it's about different characters. One of them is a battered (really battered) woman, and the others are assorted humans and vampires, all of them dancers who work for Blue Moon productions. They dance for parties, and, this being a romance novel, Layla, the heroine, falls for her vampire partner. I liked all the characters in the story, and there's plenty more to investigate about them and their interesting work. In fact if Charlaine had the inclination, she could begin a whole new series about these people. I'd read it.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Lots of Lyall's early books were narrated in the first person by pilots, and Shooting Script is no exception. Former fighter pilot Keith Carr's now flying charters and freight in the Caribbean, and he gets involved with a movie production company much like Batjac. The movie star who's running the show resembles John Wayne in just about every way. Pretty soon Carr finds himself involved in a lot more than a movie, including crosses, double crosses, and a Latin American revolution. It's all smoothly and expertly handled by Lyall. Appealing characters, great flying sequences, a bit of mystery, and a bit of romance. It all makes me wonder even more why his latest books don't seem to U.S. editions. Maybe I'm overlooking something.
At any rate, if you've never read Lyall, I highly recommend this book, or try Midnight Plus One, The Wrong Side of the Sky, or The Most Dangerous Game. Great stuff.
A political aside: At one point in the novel, Keith Carr says, " . . . just for the record, I believe democracy's simply a habit. Like smoking or drinking or driving safely. Not checks and balances, not one-man-one-vote. Just millions of people saying, 'Christ, they can't do that!" But it takes time bo build up that sort of instinct."
Maybe that's why it's impossible to bring instant democracy to the Middle East.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
It's always nice to see the place where you live immortalized in prose.
Luckily for you I can't remember any more. But you have to admit that it classes up the old blog quite a bit. I mean, John Keats never even thought about writing a Gold Medal original.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
My grandmother provided the answer. She lived next door to us, and she told my mother that I could come over to her house and watch the Dick Clark show. This was a tremendous surprise to me, since this grandmother (my father's mother) hardly ever spoke to anyone in the family. I don't think she liked us, and I've always suspected that my mother somehow coerced her into letting me go over and watch the show. But I didn't question my good fortune. I just went over there, turned on the TV set, and sat in the floor while I watched. My grandmother sat in the room's only chair, a rocker (no pun intended), and spoke not a word during the whole thing. When it was over, I left. Maybe I thanked her. Maybe not.
The performers on this show, as on Bandstand, all lip-synched their numbers, with the exception (as the Cap'n makes note) of Jerry Lee Lewis. I remember seeing him on the show, and others I remember seeing for sure were Chubby Checker, Jack Scott, the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, the Silhouettes, and the Royal Teens. There must have been many others.
The show continued at least into my first year of college, but when I went to college, my TV viewing came pretty much to a standstill. Nobody had a TV set in the dorm. That was unheard of. The dorm had one tiny set, down in a dank dungeon-like room in the basement, and that's where I watched the special on which Frank Sinatra welcomed Elvis home from his overseas service in the Army. That was the only show I saw during the nine months of college for my freshman year (1959-1960). While I missed out on the Dick Clark shows that year, it still remains one of the fond memories of my teenhood.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Dang. I feel almost like I know Dick Clark personally.
I used to rush home from school in the afternoons back in the '50s to see American Bandstand, and it hacked me that I often had to miss about the first fifteen minutes or so. I remember some of the girls who danced on the show, including Justine, who seemed to be everyone's favorite, but I preferred Pat Molittieri. But I digress. The guy who held the show together was Dick Clark, introducing the records, the spotlight dances, and the singers who came on the pantomime their hits. Not to mention revealing the Top Ten and doing the "rate a record" segment. Speaking of which, the only one of those I really remember is the one when they rated "The Chipmunk Song." The kids hated it, but Dick predicted they'd all be dancing to it by Christmas.
I watched Bandstand in the summers when I was in college, and I watched it for years after that. I eventually lost interest, but I always perked up when Dick Clark was mentioned, even if I didn't watch any of his shows. Judy was a big fan of Password when he was the MC of that one, so I saw him regularly in those days.
I have no idea what kind of person he is, and I don't care. He was a major part of my growing up, and he's been around ever since. I wish him well.
This is pretty cool. I'd never have to nerve to try it, myself.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
But let's face it: not everybody's going to like every book he reads. Hey, there may even be some poor, misguided souls who don't like my books, as hard as that is to believe. And Lee, for one, didn't like another of my favorite books, River Girl, by one of my favorite Gold Medal writers, Charles Williams, but I didn't notice anybody calling him bad names for that.
I happen to like most of what I've read by Ken Bruen a lot. I believe it was Jeff Meyerson who recommended The White Trilogy to me a year or so ago. I didn't pay much attention at first, but Jeff said something about how he knew I'd like the three books, so I thought I'd give them a try. As it turned out he was certainly right. The White Trilogy blew me away. I hadn't been as excited about a writer in a long time, and I started telling everybody about him. Back in March of this year, at the AggieCon, I'm sure people got tired of hearing me talk about him.
I'm not sure why I liked the books so much. Probably it was a combination of things. First of all, the style caught me. It's distinctive, spare, and poetic, and it works just fine for me. I can see why it might not work for everyone, though, and that's all right. I have a feeling Bruen isn't trying to please everyone.
Another thing was the tone of the books. To me they seemed like the 87th Precinct on speed. And they don't play by the usual rules. Anyone can die (or get cancer or get maimed or get hooked on drugs and/or alcohol) at any time. Crimes are solved more or less by luck, or accident, rather than anything resembling what you might see on CSI or Law and Order. Sometimes it's hard to tell the cops from the criminals. Sometimes the cops seem even crazier than the criminals. I ate it up.
So naturally I was delighted when I found out that stories begun in The White Trilogy weren't going to end with the three books that comprised it. Blitz might be subtitled Brant is Back, but the whole surviving crew is back: Falls, McDonald, Nash, Roberts. And it's as good as the first three, if not even better.
Last weekend I did a signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, and I picked up the fifth book in the series, Vixen. And believe me, vixen is a mild word for the title character, one of the best villains in the entire series. I liked this one a lot as well.
I feel pretty lucky because I have three other Ken Bruen books in my TBR mountain, with more to be added shortly. You can bet I'll be getting to them fairly soon.
Monday, December 06, 2004
And I even watched all of it, though I was thinking all the time, "This is what we've come to. Starting with National Treasure, and now this, every movie made for the next ten years will be the same." And I was also thinking, "What a piece of crap."
But, as I said, I watched it.
There's no need to summarize the plot, since it makes very little (if any) sense. I kept watching mainly, I think, in hopes to see the rest of Kelly Hu's Serpent Brotherhood tattoo. (Ms. Hu, by the way, was seriously under-used in the movie. She was great in her few scenes.)
There's no need to comment on the special effects. I've already said, "cheesey." That about covers it. If you could, for even a second or two, have believed that the stars (Noah Wyle and Sonya Walger, who has the best line in the movie) were walking over an actual bridge anywhere near an actual waterfall in one of the big scenes, you might have bought into the movie. But you couldn't believe it. Not even for a second or two.
There was one point, however, at which I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Almost. The big martial-arts scene at the movie's climax features some of the lamest fighting I've seen since Diana Rigg turned in her leather suit. But even at that, to see Bob Newhart as a martial artist was worth sitting through the other two hours of the movie. Almost.
Actually, if you can overlook the ridiculous plot and the cheesey effects, the cast is pretty good. Wyle is appealing as a geeky librarian, and Walger is aces as his hardboiled protector. I've mentioned Kelly Hu. Newhart is fine, as always. Jane Curtin has a small but entertaining role. Poor Kyle MacLachlan, though, must have needed the money. Desperately. Or maybe he just enjoyed being pure Virginia ham.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss two hours good-bye.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
I once accused Joe of having written "No Class Chick" because I'm sure he wrote for Easyriders when he was starting out. He's never admitted it, but it's certainly like a story Joe would have written. It's about a guy whose initiation into a bikers' club is to take a woman on a cross-country run, and she has to remain in his company the entire time. Before he even starts, she dies. But that doesn't change the rules. The story starts off gross and gets progressively grosser. The old phrase "not for the squeamish" was never more appropriate. (I'll spare you most of the details, but there's even a rape scene.) If that's not a Lansdale plot, what is? It even has Lansdale like similes: "The panic-frozen bunch of wanderers couldn't have helped a cockroach out of a plate of mashed potatoes. . . ."
I'm posting this in case some future doctoral candidate about to write a dissertation on the collected works of Lansdale is looking for influences. Sure, there are the obvious ones, like Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor, but "No Class Chick" must not be overlooked.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
The latest issue of Kevin Burton Smith's webzine is up, and it has (besides a great cover) new fiction, reviews, comics, and all sorts of good stuff. Always worth checking out. And for those of you in the writing game, Kevin says that it's become a paying market.
Friday, December 03, 2004
Here's what the reviewer said: "Bill Crider...writes two entertaining mystery series about his friends and colleagues.... In his third book about small-town English professor Sally Good, Crider links the muder of a campus troublemaker with Good's late husband, supposedly related to a Salem witch.
I do still have a big stack of comix that I bought back in the late '60s and early '70s: Zap Comix, Sudden Death Funnies, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and so on. Thank goodness I didn't store those with the issues of Rolling Stone.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
"Gee, I remember that one too -- it made me go out and buy the book, which I still think is Crumley's best by far. And didn't Marcus also do a column on Chandler about the same time, a collection of his best wisecracks?
"And how the story about Warren Zevon and Ross Macdonald? And the Macdonald obit? And the original version of Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities? The Patty Hearst story? Mikal Gilmore's coverage of his brother's execution? All those great (and disturbing) true crime
stories? Hunter S. Thompson? P.J. O'Rourke? Dave Marsh? Charles M. Young? And on and on.
"It's a sad world when the most famous Rolling Stone staffer is now lightweight filmmaker Cameron Crowe, whose lightweight rock crit career reached its pinnacle with his penning of the liner notes for Frampton Comes Alive.
"Kids, believe it or not, once upon a time Rolling Stone was much much more than just a marginally hipper version of People. Forget the cutting edge (and often surprisingly hard-boiled) writing on lit and music and politics and culture, now it's mostly, to quote those other Stones, starfuckastarfuckastarfuckastarfuckastar and regularly scheduled special issues and tributes to itself."
Well, I couldn't have said it better myself, which is why I asked Kevin if it would be okay for me to reprint his remarks here. I actually know nothing at all about the current incarnation of the magazine, but I was a subscriber from the late 1960s until the middle 1980s. By then it had begun to be of little interest to me. I'll never forget, however, the story that Kevin mentions, the one about Macdonald and Warren Zevon. I went out and bought Zevon's album (it was an LP, which you oldsters will understand), and it was so good that I bought every Zevon album afterward, which means I have a couple on 8-track, some on cassette, and others on CD.
But what about those great issues of Rolling Stone from the early days? Since I save everything, don't I still have them around? No, and that's the point of this post. When I left Howard Payne U. to come here and teach in Alvin, I had no room for all those back issues. However, there was a great storage cabinet in the Main Building on the floor where I taught. I'd been keeping the magazines there for years, and I thought it would be a great place to leave them. If I ever wanted them, I could just go back and get them. Well, Robert Burns told us a long time ago about the best-laid plans and what happens to them. In this case, Old Main burned to the ground the year after I left, and mingled in with the ashes of everything else were those of my Rolling Stone collection. I think about it every now and then. Sic transit gloria mundi, or words to that effect.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
I think that when Otto Penzler signed Thomas to Mysterious Press, both of them probably had the idea that it was time for Thomas to "break out," as they say these days. For years Thomas had gotten rave reviews, and no wonder. He was one of the best writers around. His style was sophisticated without being literary, his plots were clever and twisty, his characterization was the best in the business, his dialogue was top-notch, his humor always seemed to click, his wit was sharp, his backgrounds and facts always seemed absolutely on the money, his worldview was a little jaded but never depressing. So why didn't Thomas break out?
Don't ask me. Writers who couldn't carry Thomas's ballpoint pen (No, I'm not naming names. [James Patterson, John Grisham, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum.]) sell billions of copies, while a guy like Thomas sells only adequately. Maybe he was too good to be a best-seller. I suppose that's possible. It's also a shame. If you haven't read one of Thomas's books, you should. It'll be a real treat, whether it's one he wrote under his own name or as "Oliver Bleeck." I believe that the ones under his name are currently being reprinted in paperback by St. Martin's, which is a real public service.
I'd like to add here that when I picked up the first Oliver Bleeck book, many years ago, I'd read no more than two pages before I knew that Thomas had written it. I'm not usually that perceptive. (It's happened only two other times.) But Thomas was so good that I knew nobody else could have been the author.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Probably everybody has a favorite Warner Brothers cartoon, and there are so many good ones that it's hard to choose just one. So I won't even try. But I will mention one that impressed me a lot when I was a kid. I saw it only once and never got another look at it until I got the first Golden Collection last year. Since I watched WB cartoons on TV for hundreds hours with my kids when they were young, I don't know how I missed this one, but it was great to see it again at last.
It's called "Scaredy Cat," and it stars Porky and Sylvester, who go to an old deserted mansion on a dark and stormy night. Practically the first thing that Sylvester sees is a bunch of mice taking a cat to be excuted, while as what I thought of as a kid as "the Death March" is played in the background. For whatever reason, this struck me as the creepiest scene in any cartoon I'd ever seen. I was happy to discover that I found it just as creepy after all these years. I've watched "Scaredy Cat" a couple of times just to see that scene. The whole thing seems to have a little bit darker tone than most cartoons, in spite of the overly cheerful ending. Maybe that's one reason why I liked it so much.
And of course another reason is that I can't resist the old-deserted-mansion-on-a-dark-and stormy-night bit. Give me Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and I'm a happy guy. Hey, I'll even watch Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorillia. Judy often says, "It takes so little to make you happy." How true.
Monday, November 29, 2004
One thing I don't like about living down here practically on the Texas Gulf Coast: year-round lawn mowing.
Anybody who knows me knows that I don't like mowing the lawn. This stems from a childhood trauma created by having to mow a lawn of about ten acres with a reel-type push mower. Uphill. In the snow.
Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a little bit. Not about the push mower, however. I really did mow a large lawn with one for several years back before I even entered junior high. My father finally relented and bought a power mower, for which I was grateful for about forty-five minutes. Then I found out I was expected to use it.
Down here, grass grows for most of the year. If you're lucky, you might have to mow only a couple of times in December, and maybe not even once in January. But by the middle of February, the stuff is greening up, and once that happens, you might as well crank up the mower because the cycle is beginning all over again. It never ends.
Which is why I was out today, the Monday after Thanksgiving, mowing in the 80 degree weather. And as soon as I finished, it rained. Which means the stupid lawn is growing even now.
Lawn mowing is big business in these parts. People make good money at the job. My favorite story in that regard was told to me by a teacher at the college. He was building a very nice home in Friendswood, just down the road from Alvin. He thought it was rather extravagant, in fact. But not long after he got started, someone began an even bigger, nicer home right down the street. He decided that he'd like to meet the people who were building it, since they'd soon be his neighbors, so he walked down one afternoon. And -- I'm sure you guessed it -- the guy who would soon be moving in was the one who came every week to the teacher's house to mow the lawn.
Nobody pays me. All I get is the satisfaction of a job well done. And we all know how good that makes you feel.
Plots with Guns is packing it in. The zine did great work and published some fine stories in its five years. Check out the final issue by clicking on the link above. Thanks to Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, M. Hunter Hayes, and Trevor Maviano for all their good work.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
First of all, the book is not, as we like to say, for the squeamish. It's about terrible people who do terrible things to other people, and some of those things are described in detail. Baseball bats are involved, and so are various parts of people's anatomies.
The plot is in the classic Gold Medal tradition, the one where a more or less ordinary guy finds himself in big trouble, and, just when you think it can't get any worse, it gets worse. Much worse.
Joe Hope, who is not a nice man, gets some bad news: his daughter, possibly the only person he cares about, commits suicide. And then his wife is murdered. Joe might not care so much about his wife's death if the cops didn't think he was the killer. He decides to find out who's responsible and deal out a little payback, assuming he can survive.
Kiss Her Goodbye moves fast, and there are plenty of interesting characters to meet along the way. My favorite is Tina, a prostitute who can handle a baseball bat almost as well as Joe. (Check out that great cover.) The climax is as nerve-wracking as anybody could ask for.
I don't know what's going on over there in Ireland and the U.K. Maybe it's something in the water. If it is, I wish I had some of it to drink, myself. (Maybe it's not the water.) Anyway, there are a lot of guys over there who are really bringing noir and hardboiled novels back to their roots, but they're doing it in their own way and in their own styles. Allan Guthrie is right out there in the front of the pack, and if you missed his outstanding debut novel, Two-Way Split, it's time you read it right now. And then, next March, you'll want to be right there at your local newsstand (assuming there is such a thing these days) to grab Kiss Her Goodbye.
And while I'm at it, here's another word of thanks to the good folks at Hard Case Crime for publishing novels like this one, along with other originals and classics. Long may they prosper.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
My brother, sister, and I got together yesterday for a little Thanksgiving nostalgia. Bob, my brother, had a box of old family photos, and he gave me a few of them. This one isn't dated, but I'd guess it's from around 1949. That's Bob on the bottom left, aiming the rifle. The kid in the middle is John Roy Truelove, who lived across the street from us and who died in an automobile accident on his way back to college around 1961. Francelle, my sister, is the cowgirl on the right, and of course that's me in the back. You might not be able to see the twin pistols I'm holding on John Roy's shoulders, but they were from a double-holster set. Boy, I wish I had them now. Not to mention that outfit Francelle's wearing. The picture was taken at our house at 308 East Hunt Street. There's a vacant lot there now.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
The latest issue of Al Guthrie's webzine is up, and it's a good one. As always. Interviews, articles, fiction, reviews. Great stuff. Click on the linke above and see for yourself.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
I know that my roommate, Walter Funk, went along. I know that one of my best friends from high school, Bob Tyus, was with us. And I'm pretty sure that Mike Leary and Allan Rast were along as well. At any rate, I drove the whole bunch to the capitol grounds and found a great parking spot in back of the building. We all walked around to the front and stood in the crowd to hear the speech. I don't remember a thing that was said.
When the speech was over, we all ran to the back of the capitol building and went in through the back door. JFK was coming through the building, shaking hands with people who were in lines on both sides of him. I know that Bob Tyus and I shoved through the press and stuck out our hands for a brief contact. Then we all ran back to the car, hoping to get out of there before the crush of the traffic jammed all the streets.
Somehow we got out just in time to get into the motorcade, only a couple of cars in front of the one that JFK was riding in. We weren't in line for long. A car full of guys in coats, ties, and hats pulled up beside me and motioned me to the side of the road. Like a good citizen, I pulled over and stopped. The secret service guys stayed there for a second or two, until JFK's car went by, and then moved on. I stayed until the entire motorcade had gone past, and then I drove back to the university, my brush with greatness over.
I still remember where I parked that day, along the street that ran by the intramural field, which disappeared under a hive-like dorm more than 30 years ago.
Monday, November 22, 2004
As I mentioned in another post, I was talking about Huckleberry Finn to my fourth period junior English class at Corsicana High School on November 22, 1963, when the school secretary came by and called me to the door. She said that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. She didn't have any other details, so I went back and finished up the class without saying anything to them about it.
The next period I had to conduct the study hall. This was held in a very large room with, as I recall, nearly 90 desks. By the time I got there, just about every student in the school had heard the news. If it wasn't the quietest study hall I ever had, it was certainly the most solemn. A student had one of those little transistor radios that were so popular at that time. He put it in the window (to improve the reception) and turned it on. We all listened to the reports coming out of Dallas. Nobody talked. A girl named Janis Glenn cried for most of the hour.
I don't remember anything at all about my sixth period class. I'm not even sure I met it. Maybe the principal dismissed classes after fifth period.
Later I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV in black and white. I saw the funeral procession in black and white as well.
Like everyone else who lived through that time, I'll never forget it. And I'm sad that my memories of my mother on her birthday are tangled up with memories of those terrible days.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
"Belatedly the news trickles through that the International Fantasy Award, presented at last year's World Science Fiction Convention in London, went to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
"As regular readers of this department may guess, I could not be more delighted. This superb trilogy— consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—is one of the major achievements of epic imagination in our lifetimes, and your life is the poorer if you have failed to read it. One warning, however: Tolkien's Middle World is, like Baker Street or the Land of Oz, a trap with a firm and powerful grip. Enthusiasm may here pass easily into mania; and once infected by Tolkien's magic, you may never again quite reenter this 'real' 1958 world of satellites and ICBMs and segregation and recession.
"Allen & Unwin, Tolkien's London publishers, have disclosed that the perfectionist scholar is now 'working as best he can on The Silmarillion, which might best be described as the source book for The Lord of the Rings. We cannot,' they add, 'hold out any hope that it will be published this year.' This is news which should reduce at least the English-speaking suicide rate to zero; who could willingly depart from a life which holds such a treasure in its future?"
Saturday, November 20, 2004
If you don't read the comments, you missed the link above to the excellent discussion of Pam and Jerry North on radio. Well worth your time.
Friday, November 19, 2004
I had fond memories of Mr. & Mrs. North from both radio and TV. One of the reasons I liked the TV version is that I thought Barbara Britton, who played Pam North, was a doll. After watching "These Latins," I still do. The show also starred Richard Denning as Jerry North. I like his work, too, but for me Pam was the big attraction.
"These Latins" has a couple of good guest stars: Katy Jurado and Hans Conried. Katy is the flirtatious "author" of a book Jerry is about to publish, and Hans is an Argentine poet who's madly in love with her. He overacts with zest, loving every line he speaks in his e-Spanish accen', don' joo know. Best line in the show is Katy's, when she tells Hans how well her book is going to do, and Hans says that he wrote it. "I wrote it," the offended Katy says. "You just wrote down the lines." Katy is the murder victim, sad to say, and the solution to the crime is rather perfunctory. Pam, who is not as ditsy as she appears to be, solves it, much to everyone's surprise.
I've read a couple of the Lockridge novels, and Pam reminded me a little of Gracie Allen. However, Barbara Britton does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of Pam for the TV show. No wonder I thought she was cute. And still do.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
I attended the funeral of the last surviving veteran of the Civil War in Franklin, Texas.
On the Monday after the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, a student in one of my English classes at Corsicana High School showed up with a completely new hair style. He'd washed his hair and dried it and then let it fall as it would.
I was talking that same class when the school secretary called me to the door to tell me that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. (I had seen Kennedy in person a couple of years earlier when he spoke on the steps of the Texas capitol building in Austin and had inadvertently become a part of his motorcade afterward. But that's another story.)
Here's something else the author of the article says, and I couldn't agree more: "[T]he respectably middlebrow common culture of the early 1960s is only a memory, as is the pipe dream of an America enchanted by serious literature and classical music; instead we have American mass culture, a worldwide economic powerhouse that transforms almost everything it touches. And though that mass culture is, admittedly, large and diverse—and fragmented—enough to include many bright spots, it also has staggering depths of vulgarity, is aimed (largely) at 12-year-olds, and has little regard for intelligence, seriousness, or wit. The early 1960s’ naiveté may be gone, but philistinism and ignorance thrive unashamed. In a time when many Americans appear far more eager to be coarsened than to be edified, the early 1960s look very attractive indeed."
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Ballinger's technique was to tell two different stories, one in first person and one in third person, in alternating chapters. Eventually the stories come together, sometimes in surprising ways and sometimes in sadly inevitable ways. (And if you think that's an easy trick to pull of, just try it.)
Ballinger went on to do a number of paperback originals for Signet Books (and at least one each for Gold Medal and Pyramid). In the '60s he did a series of spy novels (again for Signet) featuring a character named Joaquin Hawks, and all of these are fun to read.
There are several of Ballinger's originals that I haven't read yet, including one called The Source of Fear, which supposedly has a lost city in it. I can't resist lost cities, so I gotta get to that one soon.
In 1993, Harper reprinted two of Ballinger's best in one paperback volume, pictured above. A real bargain if you can find it.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
All right, already, you're saying. Enough of that. Get to the shameful admission. Okay, fine. Here it is. The other day I was in Wal-Mart, and I saw boxes full of dollar DVDs. I'm a sucker for a DVD for a buck, so I looked them over. And there it was, beckoning seductively: a brand new DVD of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla for only a dollar. "A Film Festival Favorite Re-Presented for the Digital Generation!"
But it's a terrible movie, I told myself. You don't need it. Not even for a buck. And so I hardened my heart and passed it by. Went on about my business. Forgot all about it.
Okay, that last part's a lie. I couldn't forget it. It preyed on my mind. It called out to me in the nighttime.
And here's the shameful admission. I went back a couple of days ago, and I bought it. Yes! And even worse, I've watched it! (Well, not all of it. Nobody can watch all of it at one sitting and live to tell the tale.)
Boy, I'm glad I got that off my chest. I feel much better now.
Monday, November 15, 2004
You can't make this stuff up. No disrespect for the current adminstration intended, in case you're reading this Mr. Ashcroft, but it's just plain nutty. And I'm afraid we'll be seeing more and more of it as time goes by (to coin a phrase). I keep telling myself that it's joke, but I'm afraid it's not.
UPDATE: As it turns out, this is indeed a hoax. Whew. I'm glad to know it for sure.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Some years ago, never mind how many, I got a call from a Houston private investigator named Clyde Wilson. Wilson is a famous guy in this area and elsewhere. He was Ivana Trump’s investigator when she divorced The Donald. He negotiated a hostage situation in North Africa. He caught a serial killer in Clear Lake, Texas. (Yeah, I know private-eyes aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing, but Wilson did.) So what did Wilson want with me? He wanted me to help him write his autobiography.
That's the beginning of my post on Ed Gorman's Blog. If you want to read the rest of it, you'll have to click the link and scroll down.
The good news for Popeye fans is that in December the Cartoon Network will be devoting four consecutive Fridays to the Sailor Man, showing all the great Fleischer cartoons and others as well. There's a good article about this celebration here.
As for me, I decided not to wait for the Cartooon Network. I got out one of my dollar DVDs and watched a few episodes. There's only one from the Fleischer era on Volume One. It's "Popeye Meets Ali Baba and His 40 Thieves," from 1937. Great visuals and animation, a song from Ali Baba (Bluto, of course), Popeye's trademark muttering, and jokes (Popeye, while they're wandering in the desert: "If I had some bread, I'd make me a sandwich, if I had a witch"). This was the best cartoon on the DVD. Coming in second is "Big Bad Sinbad," from the '50s. The visuals are almost as good as in the '30s cartoon. Bluto is a pretty tough Sinbad, but Popeye (with the help of some spinach) takes care of him. "Ancient Fistory" is the Cinderella story, with Popeye in the Cinderella role, or the "Cinderfella" role, as he puts it (years before Jerry Lewis came up with the idea). I'll have to watch a few more of these soon.
UPDATE: I had another look at "Big Bad Sinbad" because I was a little bothered by it, and I think I've figured out why. This is two cartoons in one. What they did was take one of the earlier Fleischer cartoons, and butcher it. There's a new opening and a new ending, with some interruptions along the way. A good bit of the earlier cartoon (which was probably much better) has been cut. At least that's the way I see it. Maybe I'll look into this further. Or maybe not.
Clear Channel has struck again. It wasn't enough that they'd screwed up the AM dial. Oh, no. Not for Clear Channel. As I was still reeling from the fact that the media mega-monster is changing Geezer Radio 790 AM to "all sports talk, all the time," CC suddenly and without warning changed the format of KLOL-FM (101.1) from rock to "Spanglish Top 40."
Friday, November 12, 2004
One of them was Volume One of Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen. "The God Pan" is the first story (or novella) in the book, and it was just what I was looking for. One character in the story mentions that it's like a set of Chinese boxes, one inside the other, and that's exactly what it is. In fact, the "story" is really a number of stories that seem at first to have only tenuous connections, but as you read farther you begin to see that there's a connection, sure enough. The horror is subtle, not the gross-out kind. Machen isn't one of those writers who spell things. He gives a few details, then leaves the rest up to the reader's imagination. It's a technique that works very well in "The God Pan." And also in "The Inmost Light." These are two of Machen's most famous works, and they certainly worked for me.
Machen isn't exactly a househould name these days, and one of the entertaining things (to me) about reading stories like these is that you can easily imagine that nobody else in the whole country is reading them or has even thought of them in years.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Many mornings when I was teaching, I'd watch the coffee drinkers lined up in front of the urn in the faculty lounge as the coffee perked, their hands shaking as they held their cups, their feet tapping as they tried to urge the brewing process on to greater speed. I never quite understood it.
Oh, I could appreciate the ritual aspect of it, all right. In fact, I sort of envied the coffee drinkers for the many days, weeks, years, of pleasant morning ritual that I would never be a part of. But actually drinking coffee was a price I wasn't willing to pay. I don't like the taste.
I tried, God knows, I tried. When I went to college, everyone drank coffee. The ritual in those days was to stay up all night to study for exams, drinking quarts of coffee along the way. So I tried to learn to like coffee. I bought the best brands. I tried all the brewing secrets.
Didn't work. Not only did I not like coffee, but I didn't like staying up all night, either. At least not to study. As usual, I just didn't fit in.
After I got married, I tried again. Judy loves coffee. She has it morning, noon, and night. (She used to drink so much of it that I actually had to hold an intervention, but that's another story.) Because she likes it so much, I gave it another try.
Didn't work. I still don't like the taste. I get my caffeine in other ways, Dr Pepper and Pepsi One being the preferred methods. But when it comes to coffee, include me out.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
One thing that really got me about the movie was that by the time it was over I'd pretty much forgotten that I wasn't watching real people on the screen. The animation is that good. I'm scared to think where movie-making is going next, but then I haven't even seen The Polar Express yet. I'd love to see it in IMAX 3-D because I'm sure it would be an amazing experience.
Addendum: Jayme Blaschke has a comment below that's worth reading, and I put a link in my reply to his more complete review of the movie. But that link's not clickable. This one is.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The cover has a pretty good likeness of Douglas on it. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show back when Jack Parr was the host, so I remember what he looked like. And the book is just as strange as I remembered. It's very short, only 116 pages, and some of the pages have very little written on them. Chapter 42, for example, is nothing more than a sign that says, "This is your Submarine. Keep It Tidy." And in fact, chapter might be the wrong word, as it implies some kind of continuity. There's no continuity in the book. Each "chapter" is a separate entity containing things like notes, playbills, diary entries, reminiscenses, one-liners, and so on. My favorite chapter begins with another sign: "Kick the Happiness Habit -- Become a Writer."
So does the book still make me laugh? Sure, in places. It's not as funny to me as it was long ago, however, which is a shame. I figure the book hasn't changed. So it must be me.
Monday, November 08, 2004
I always sort of liked Howard Keel. The first thing I remember seeing him in was Annie Get Your Gun, which was a Broadway musical kind of western. And after that there was Show Boat. I was more impressed by Ava Gardner and Kathryn Grayson, though. Keel played another musical westerner in Calamity Jane, and he was good. I mean, if you can accept squeaky clean Doris Day as Calamity Jane, you can accept just about anything. My favorite Keel movie is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and he plays a rugged frontiersman in that one, as well. Not that the movie's intended to be a realistic depiction of frontier life, any more than Calamity Jane was. Another of my favorites is Kiss Me, Kate. Kathryn Grayson is in that one, too, but what really got my attention was Ann Miller's "Too Darn Hot" number. Hubba-hubba! But I digress. On the grittier side, there's a non-musical western called Waco that Keel made about 40 years ago. It's pretty much forgotten now, but worth a look. I suppose most people remember him for his role on Dallas, but I never saw a single episode of that show.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
The other day I was sitting at the computer when I heard a strange noise. I looked up to my right and saw that the top shelf of paperbacks had collapsed onto the shelf below, which had collapsed onto the shelf below that. Since all three of those shelves were double stacked with paperbacks, it was a precarious situation. If they all let go at once, I was going to be buried in books. Probably appropriate, but it would have taken Judy weeks to dig me out. So I leapt into action.
It's too bad that there was no one with a video camera to record subsequent events. I had a low chair at one end of the shelves and a stool at the other. To get from the chair to the stool, I had to run around the computer desk. And I had to move fast. At times, I was standing on both the stool and the chair at the same time. Impossible, you say? Well, I was there, and I know. I'm sure it looked like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Somehow I managed to get most of the books cleared off the shelves and to get the shelves themselves down before there was a total disaster. Books were stacked all over the desks in the office and all over the floor in both the office and an adjoining bedroom.
I discovered the reason for the collapse: the middle rail had pulled away from the sheetrock. So I was off to the hardware store to get a couple of sheetrock anchors to replace the old ones. After I got that taken care of, the rails were back in place, and I put the shelves back up. As of today, the books are back in place, too. If the shelves will hold up for another 21 years, I probably won't care what happens to them.
A good side effect of the collapse was that I found some books I'd been looking for, the first three by Jack Douglas: My Brother was an Only Child, Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver, and A Funny Thing Happened on my way to the Grave.